We evaluated the expression patterns of p16, which is used as a surrogate marker of HPV infection in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), in regard to their biological and prognostic implications. p16 expression patterns and infiltrated immune cells were analyzed through immunohistochemistry of p16, CD3, CD8, PD-1, FOXP3, and CD163 on surgically resected HNSCCs (n = 393). Patterns of p16 immunoexpression were defined as STRONG (strong, diffuse expression in cytoplasm, and nucleus in >70% of tumor cells), MARGINAL (expression restricted to tumor margins), MOSAIC (ragged, discontinued expression), NUCLEAR (expression in nuclei only), and ABSENT (no expression). The STRONG pattern was more frequent in the oropharynx, and the MARGINAL pattern was noted only in the oral cavity. MOSAIC and NUCLEAR patterns were noted at variable sites. No two patterns of p16 expression showed the same immune cell composition of CD3+ T cells, CD8+ cytotoxic T cells, PD-1+ T cells, FOXP3+ regulatory T cells, and CD163+ macrophages. In overall and disease-free survival analyses, the STRONG pattern showed the most favorable prognosis, while the NUCLEAR pattern had the worst prognosis. HNSCC anatomical sites, tumor-related immune cell components, and patient outcomes were associated with p16 expression patterns. Each architectural pattern of p16 expression may be related to different biological and prognostic phenotypes.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Pathology and Forensic Medicine
- Immunology and Allergy
- Microbiology (medical)